Questions, answers and jobs for the coming week

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Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions

Q: We don’t like sprouts or white winter cabbage. Is there a winter cabbage which is perfectly green? HK, Horndean.

A: You have a choice and either can be planted in the garden right now. Find a variety of Savoy cabbage which will be green as long as it is cut at Christmas. But the very best greens for winter is curly kale. It’s very hardy and can be cut even when covered in snow. A lot of allotment holders are realising what a good vegetable this is. Cut and come again all winter.

Q: My winter-flowering pansies looked sad all winter but I read your advice and used a hand fork to tickle up the soil. This worked a treat and the blooms have smothered the ground. I wanted to let you know. HV, Copnor.

A: I am very pleased about this. You could take some cuttings and I have sent you a diagram explaining how to do this.

Q: Because of the very dry weather I have been using the water from the water butts. There was about three inches of mud in the bottom of one of them and I wonder how to stop this happening again. I have washed out the mud.
DP, Portchester.

A: I am very pleased you save rain water. Find a piece of nylon stocking and tie this over the end of the down pipe using thin wire. Try to put a lid on the water butt too as you would never believe how much dust there is in the air. Rain water is marvellous in the garden and if used on rows of peas it prevents the vines going brown in prolonged dry spells.


Take cuttings from aubrietia plants, three inches long. Now remove the bottom two inches of leaves. Insert them in a 50-50 mix of sharp sand and universal compost. Keep them in the shade and protect the box from cats and they should root in three to four weeks.

Place greenhouse ferns in a shady part of the greenhouse as many end up with scorched leaves if left in direct hot sunshine.

Feed greenhouse cucumbers by top dressing the surface of the compost with a little Vitax Q4 fertiliser and water afterwards with a rose on the can. In a few days, new white roots will appear on the surface of the compost. When you see these, top dress the surface of the compost with John Innes number 3 compost. This will increase the number of fruits. Repeat several times at weekly intervals.

Summer prune apple trees. This means cutting the side shoots to half their length, the prunings will be soft and should be composted. This practice will induce fruit buds for next year’s apples.

Use fingers and thumbs to see if early potatoes are ready. Don’t dig the whole plant. Give it a liquid feed to encourage more tubers.

Thin Grapes again and blow sulphur dust into the centres of the bunches to prevent powdery mildew.

Check tall flowers in borders. They may need support if you didn’t use hazel sprays in March.

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